A Roomful of Playwrights

Earlier this week PrintI got back from an exhilarating and stimulating few days in Chicago, where the Dramatists Guild of America – the U.S. counterpart to our own Playwrights Guild here in Canada – held its second annual conference.

When I first heard about the conference, I wondered whether it would be worth the time and expense to go, and posted a query to that effect in an online forum. The replies from other playwrights who had attended the first conference two years ago in Washington was uniformly positive and excited – a dozen variations on “It was great and I can’t wait to go.” That struck me as a fairly positive endorsement…

And now I find myself sitting – no, standing and jumping! – with the cheerleaders with nothing but praise for the hardworking DG staff. Why?

First of all, there’s the irrefutable fact that sitting in a hotel conference with some 500 other playwrights is enormously affirming and inspiring. I met colleagues who were just starting out and others who’ve been wildly successful on Broadway for decades.

Second, there were countless sessions that addressed our needs as playwrights both in terms of the craft (how to create character) and in terms of the business (how to protect intellectual property), as well as panels and keynotes featuring a wide array of successful theatrical creators. (Theresa Rebeck dishing on her experience with the TV show Smash and Stephen Schwartz dissecting the songs he created for Wicked and leading a singalong of “Day by Day” from Godspell.)

Finally, there were practical and hands-on workshops that I found to be very useful (using improv techniques to write, a clinic on how to write a good play synopsis) and a somewhat frenzied speed-dating evening with an array of Chicago-area theatre companies.

With all this going on, over and above the corridor and cocktail opportunities to meet my fellow writers, I was more astonished than I should have been when I discovered at the end of the conference that I’d barely stepped foot outside of the hotel.

In short, nothing like a roomful of playwrights to recharge the batteries and make me excited about what I do.

Addendum – here‘s a synopsis before-and-after from someone else who was in the clinic.